Civil Unrest in France: Firemen Turn on Police in Paris Demo
Firemen and police usually stand united as fellow civil servants. Not in Paris, where a stand-off between thousands of fire fighters and their police counterparts resulted in injury, property damage and chaos in the French capital.
A demonstration of firefighters in Paris turned violent on Tuesday. And vulgar. Police say fifteen officers were wounded and two are in serious condition after protesters hurled flares, street signs and other heavy objects at them. A police vehicle, another car and several trash cans were also set ablaze. Thirty-five firemen have been taken into custody.
According to official estimates, roughly 6,000 professional fire fighters took to the streets as part of a protest to demand better wages, a premium for dangerous missions and a "decent pension" at age 55. The labor unions that organized the demonstration claim the number of protesters was closer to 10,000. Many marched through the streets of Paris wearing full protective gear and fire helmets.
The first clashes between demonstrators and police occurred shortly before 5 p.m., the French daily Le Monde reports. Several dozen fire fighters attacked security forces with flares, bottles, stones and anything else they could find, including street signs and traffic cones. Police countered with tear gas, but were only able to disperse the mob after 30 minutes.
One gendarme suffered a head injury from one of the projectiles, while another had his leg broken after being hit in the knee by a sledgehammer.
Around 6 p.m., several hundred firemen attempted to break a police barricade that had been set up to keep them from blocking Paris' peripheral highway. Despite extensive deployment of water guns, some 30 demonstrators managed to bring the evening rush hour traffic to a complete standstill.
After visiting the injured police officers, Interior Minister and likely presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday's events were "inadmissible" and that "anyone has the right to demonstrate and to say what he thinks, but no one has the right to behave like that." The unions who organized the protest also denounced the unusually violent incidents as "contemptible acts."
It was not the first demonstration of French fire fighters in recent memory. On September 25, pompiers from all over France gathered in Paris, and after an altercation with police forces also managed to block the peripheral road.
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